Tiny Implant Revolutionizes Way Doctors Can Treat Chronic Nerve Pain

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There may be a breakthrough for people suffering with hard-to-treat chronic nerve pain.

It’s a tiny implantable electrode that is very different from other pain blockers and treats different kinds of pain, CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reports.

Chronic nerve pain is one of the toughest types of pain to treat. Painkillers, especially opioid pain killers, often don’t work very well in the long run, and there’s a very real risk of addiction.

Now, there’s a just-approved electronic pain blocker that’s very different than other pain devices.

Watching Matthew Magliaccio walking down a hall, some might think he’s like many other 68-year-olds with a bum hip or knee. But watching him walk again in a pair of shorts, it becomes clear Magliaccio lost his left leg in a motorcycle accident 10 years ago.

But his prosthetic leg lets him get around pretty well.

“I’m not in a wheelchair, and I’m mobile, and I’m walking and I can look people in the eye,” Magliaccio says.

Still, he suffers from a lot of nerve pain, including the odd phenomenon called “phantom limb pain,” when his missing leg hurts.

“My mind is saying, ‘yes, you have pain there,’ even though I don’t have that part of my body anymore,” Magliaccio says. “I felt like my ankle was broken, my toe was twisted.”

Nothing brought him much relief until he went to see Dr. David Spinner, director of pain management at Mount Sinai, who decided to try a new pain blocker, called a Bioness StimRouter. It’s a tiny electrode, a small transmitter and a controller that pulse small electric pulses into the nerves carrying the pain signals.

It’s used to treat not just phantom limb, but all kinds of pain.

“Pain often comes from hyper-excitable nerve fibers that are easy to fire. So by taking that away and making the nerve fire more normally, we’re able to block a lot of the pain,” Spinner says.

Unlike other electrical pain blockers, the device isn’t inserted into the spinal column. It’s placed directly on a peripheral nerve in a 15 minute procedure under local anesthesia.

Magliaccio has had it for two months.

“Amazing, totally amazing. Took away the pain,” he says.

This isn’t just for people missing limbs. The pain blocker can be used in the general population for most peripheral new pain, after chest or hernia surgeries, for post-stroke shoulder pain, and phantom limb pain – hundreds of thousands of patients a year, Dr. Max reports.

Even better yet, pain nerves seem to change after long periods of this stimulation, so they aren’t as painful anymore.

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